‘How can you say, “Show us the Father”?’ (John 14:9)
Rarely does Christian art show the Father. I have eschewed the awkward ‘Throne of Grace’ image of the Middle Ages, with the Ancient of Days holding his Son on the cross, which was intended to show the union of the Persons in the atoning death of Christ. I offer you a Crucifixion, nonetheless, since the glory of the Father is revealed in Jesus’s Passion, and Christ’s words in John 14:12, ‘I go to the Father’, imply that Christ offers himself to the point of death.
Georges Rouault’s expressive Christ opens his arms wide and his attention is focused forward. The viewer is brought into direct encounter with this strange figure, in which Jesus is both a strong physical presence in his defined navel and awkward arms, and also an architectural form, his arms shaping the ‘ribs’ of a shadowy arched window. Flanked by gravely attentive, witnessing figures, probably the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John, this Christ does indeed show us our Source as outflowing life and love. The overlay of cross and window means that the light beyond the cross is pressed close to it, recalling an earlier declaration by Jesus: ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10:30).
Unlike the medieval ‘Throne of Grace’, the Father here does not offer the Son, but the Son is the priestly officiant of his own sacrifice, presiding over his own corpse, which is laid out beneath the cross as the offering. Rouault’s intensely still Jesus is wholly present to our gaze, as he both offers himself and prays for us. The cosmic reach of that prayer is represented by the length of the arms, which extend beyond the edge of the wood engraving. There is a serenity in this Christ, which reaches back beyond the suffering humanity to the divine unchangeableness, and this stability is revealed, paradoxically, in the place of pain. Thus, in the face of Christ, we know and see the Father.
14 “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4And you know the way where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. 7If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.
12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. 13Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; 14if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, 17even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.